How-To Guide for Mounting Epiphytes: Help on dividing Staghorn

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How-To Guide for Mounting Epiphytes

By drdawg
January 10, 2015

Lots of people grow epiphytic plants, but most of them are grown in pots, simply because that's the way we are used to growing houseplants. However, that is not the way most of these plants grow in nature. Though they might grow on rocky outcrops or even electrical and/or telephone wires, the vast majority will be found growing in trees. Why not mount some of your epiphytes, so that they grow the way they do in nature?

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Name: Chuck Pfeiffer
McKinney, TX (DFW) (Zone 8a)
chuck7701
Jan 10, 2015 1:21 PM CST
Ken,
Great article on how to start one, and you mention you had a large one to divide. I'm in the same situation with one that weighs 75 lbs plus, and is about 6 feet in circumference. I use a block tackle pulley to raise and lower for overwintering. I would appreciate any tips or help on dividing Ole Staggie in the picture. It now takes 2 people to move it and a lot of damage to the fronds. I've put off division for as long as I could not knowing how to save it in the process.

It began life as two very small starters in a 12 inch wire basket many years ago, and the fern has totally encased it with new pups every year. Normally hangs out in the warmer months in the tree, but I have to garage it for winter. The original basket wires are rusting out, and I'm worried the stainless clips are about to bust through the old wires. If I lived in the tropics, I'd push an iron rod through and mount a wide base to support it, but I'm not. Sticking tongue out

How would you suggest I divide it up into smaller pieces? Is there a root structure below the basal leaves that I need to work around. I'm stumped.

Thanks
Chuck



Name: Ken Ramsey
Starkville, MS (Zone 8a)
[url=www.tropicalplantsandmore.com]
Orchids Greenhouse Vegetable Grower Ferns Region: United States of America Hummingbirder
Composter Bromeliad Master Gardener: Mississippi Cat Lover Tropicals Plumerias
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drdawg
Jan 10, 2015 2:05 PM CST
I tip my hat to you.

I wish I had pictures of the monster I HAD to divide and how I did it. It was over 100 lbs. and like yours, I had a block-and-tackle system for hoisting in in a tree. I will do my best to describe that division process.

The first thing I did was lower it to the ground, with the mount side down. Mine was growing on a large piece of marine plywood, something used in boat-building and readily available since I lived on the MS Gulf coast. Thus, since I was using a solid piece of wood, all the growth was directed in a 180 degree pattern. IF yours has growth in a wider pattern (growth behind as well as in front), you would want to carefully lean your mount against a firm surface (perhaps a brick wall or similar). That's a little bit trickier.

Your plant will be layer upon layer of basal fronds, and other than the top, green, basal fronds, the others will be brown, dry, and fibrous. I picked out the "pups" that were outmost from the "mother" plant to divide first. I used a large, 14-16" heavy-bladed, serrated kitchen knife to do the "surgery". I needed a blade that could "saw through those tough, fibrous fronds. You will have to use your judgment on how large a division you want to take. You just want to be sure that you leave that bright green basal frond intact (if there is a green basal frond). Also, you want to have at least 4 "reproductive" fronds on that division. Let's say you take a 12"x12" division. Most of that will be the brown, non-viable basal fronds. Just use that knife to "saw" the entire depth of fronds down to the mount. Heck, you may end up with a foot deep of brown basal fronds. That's what I had. When you have that 12x12 division cut out, just pry it away from the mount. Now you have a 12"x12"x12" division, and that's way too thick to mount. Using that handy-dandy knife, eliminate 9" of dead-frond thickness. You are thus "shaving" the division down (though cut it away in one chunk) so that it might now be 6" thick (counting the green basal frond, which is sometimes arched). Now you have a mountable-sized staghorn. I continued to do this around the whole periphery, gradually getting closer and closer to the "mother" plant. You can take every singe pup you want (remember the 4-frond minimum though). I think I ended up with 8-10 large divisions when I quit.

Another thing. If you have a whole side of pups (or the whole top or bottom of pups) and you'll be taking them all, just make a longer cut. You might then have several pups that total 12"w but 24" tall. Take the whole side, top, and/or bottom of pups and then cut it down as explained.

Don't throw away all that basal frond residue. It makes a great material to use to mount all kinds of epiphytic plants. It absorbs water and releases it slowly and basically won't rot. I had a garbage bag full of it and I still have that bag with the brown-frond material 20 years later! I have probably used 75% of what I started with.

Oh, when I had taken all those divisions and the "mother" plant was left, I pried her off the wood and then did the same thing with her stack of basal fronds that I did with the divisions. She was still a large plant but by reducing the brown basal frond layer, I reduced her weight by half. That thick layer of dead, brown basal fronds, particularly when they are soaked with water, is there the majority of the staghorn's weight is.

You asked about damaging roots. Staghorns, at least those mounted, won't have much root system. By removing that thick layer of basal fronds, you really won't do any damage to roots, but even if you did, it is unimportant. Staghorns use the roots for attachment but very little "feeding" activity. The basal and reproductive fronds are used for water/nutrient intake and transpiration.

I hope this makes some sense and helps you figure it all out.
drdawg (Ken Ramsey) - Tropical Plants & More
[url=www.tropicalplantsandmore.com]www.tropicalplantsandmore.com[/url]
If God wanted me to touch my toes, he would have put them on my knees.
Name: Chuck Pfeiffer
McKinney, TX (DFW) (Zone 8a)
chuck7701
Jan 10, 2015 3:28 PM CST
Thanks DrDawg,

That info helps a lot in deciding how to attack the problem. I wasn't sure if there were roots to the center to worry about, and you're experience helps tremendously in figuring out what and how to cut. I'll probably have to use a saws-all or hacksaw due to the old wires interspersed in the ball. Will remount on cedar or cypress boards for gifts using weedeater cord for mounting.

I was curious about the old brown basal leaves. I'm not sue if I have a "mother" plant anymore since there is new growth and so many layers all the way around the ball. When you say you cut the old leaves, I take it you mean from the bottom (center) of the cut piece towards the outside green basal leaves.

I do know what you mean about the weight when wet. I usually try to let it dry out before moving, but had no choice with an early freeze coming in. Usually hose it down a couple times a week, and often toss cupfuls of diluted fertilizer on the fronds regularly.

Thanks for the help and information. It will be an interesting spring project. I'll take pics and let you know how it works out when I set aside a day for that project.

Thanks again, and happy gardening
Chuck
Name: Dirt
(Zone 5b)
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dirtdorphins
Jan 10, 2015 3:51 PM CST
Wow! Please do take pics of the process for us all--fascinating!
How many years between 2 starters and a massive wired ball that takes a sawsall to divide?

Thanks Ken! Wonderful info
Name: Chuck Pfeiffer
McKinney, TX (DFW) (Zone 8a)
chuck7701
Jan 10, 2015 4:18 PM CST
It's been about at least 9-10 years since I started with 2 very small plants. The wire basket dirt and spaghnum moss worked fine in the beginning, then it grew larger and started to tip over from the weight. So I reattached new chains and hung it at 180 degrees from the original. It started pups on the top, bottom and backside completely engulfing the wire basket.

That's why I'll need the metal cutting ability.........and depth. The ball is about 18-24 inches of solid growth (old basal leaves) and the full width is about 6 feet in diameter all the way around. It is a definite conversation piece, and I'll be sad to have to divide it, but it just too huge. Been threatening to divide it for a couple years, but until read Ken's article and he gave me tips on dividing it, I feel confident it will be successful.
Name: Ken Ramsey
Starkville, MS (Zone 8a)
[url=www.tropicalplantsandmore.com]
Orchids Greenhouse Vegetable Grower Ferns Region: United States of America Hummingbirder
Composter Bromeliad Master Gardener: Mississippi Cat Lover Tropicals Plumerias
Image
drdawg
Jan 10, 2015 5:06 PM CST
As I said, Chuck, having growth that extends more than 180 degrees is a bit more challenging. You are going to break some of the long, fertile fronds off. Don't despair, its just the cost of doing the chore.

A saw is going to be really difficult to use on those masses of basal fronds. Believe me, I have tried everything. I would still use the long, heavy serrated knife as much as possible, and when you hit metal, get out the saws. If you can force the cut portions aside a bit, exposing the metal wire, use wire cutters. Its easier.

Thumb of 2015-01-10/drdawg/bb4c6f

I don't know if my crude "art-work" helps any, but this shows making an initial four cuts, two long lateral ones and then two shorter upper and lower cuts. You would have multiple plants on each segment and then you would cut those into sections. You would end up with nine divisions, leaving that center-plant as the possible "mother" plant.

Since you apparently don't have a wood mount of any sort, just a wire basket imbedded in the center of the "ball" of plants, you might have to hack away at this sucker while still hanging. You are probably going to need four hands to do it. You'll just have to cut deeply into the "ball" similar to the diagram, then make another cut perpendicular to the first one. That perpendicular cut would end at the other cut. Often you'll end up with more of a wedge of plants/dead basal fronds than of an rectangle or square of material. But still, whittle it down as described previously to get the weight down and to make re-mounting easier.

drdawg (Ken Ramsey) - Tropical Plants & More
[url=www.tropicalplantsandmore.com]www.tropicalplantsandmore.com[/url]
If God wanted me to touch my toes, he would have put them on my knees.
Name: Chuck Pfeiffer
McKinney, TX (DFW) (Zone 8a)
chuck7701
Jan 10, 2015 7:53 PM CST
Thanks for the diagram, that helps explain the method to cut. Will give it some thought over the coming months in anticipation of the project. Just got a Rockwell F50 orbital cutter/sander for a painting project, and that may be the trick to cutting the wedges out. A serrated knife would be a lot of work as thick and tough as this one is.
Name: Ken Ramsey
Starkville, MS (Zone 8a)
[url=www.tropicalplantsandmore.com]
Orchids Greenhouse Vegetable Grower Ferns Region: United States of America Hummingbirder
Composter Bromeliad Master Gardener: Mississippi Cat Lover Tropicals Plumerias
Image
drdawg
Jan 10, 2015 9:09 PM CST
If you find something that is effective in cutting through that dense, fibrous mass, let me know. Good luck. Talk to you later.
drdawg (Ken Ramsey) - Tropical Plants & More
[url=www.tropicalplantsandmore.com]www.tropicalplantsandmore.com[/url]
If God wanted me to touch my toes, he would have put them on my knees.

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